Sept. 28, 2013
There was much to see and enjoy on this warm and sunny Family Weekend. The largest turnout of parents and family of Vanderbilt students in recent years were on hand and the Commodore football team responded by lighting up the scoreboard with 52 points.
There was something else happening that few fans noticed. The Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl had its Executive Director Rick Catlett, its current bowl chairman Andy Pradella, several of the former chairs and members of the administrative staff - a delegation of over a dozen - in town for the weekend with the express purpose of getting to know Vanderbilt first-hand.
Catlett takes his A-Team on a weekend road trip every year and this was the first time the Gator Bowl folks picked Nashville. It was not a random choice or one driven by their love of country music. They are very curious about our football program.
It was less than one year ago that a number of conversations occurred between Vanderbilt officials and Catlett as the Commodores were in the midst of a seven game winning streak.
At a dinner in downtown Nashville Friday evening, Catlett told attending Vanderbilt guests that had the unpredictable fates of college football taken a slightly different turn, we would have been their choice to represent the Southeastern Conference against a Big Ten opponent.
That possibility went south, however, when Northwestern emerged as the clear-cut Big Ten option and since we had already met during the regular season, a rematch was out of the question.
The Gator Bowl contingent is an impressive array of community leaders, most of whom are business executives with a passion to promote Jacksonville. Commodore fans should not leap to any conclusions that a bowl trip there is imminent; in a program that prides itself on going 1-0 for the week, any speculation beyond the present is pointless if not silly.
It is interesting what observations make an impression. Several Gator Bowlers mentioned the large number of Vanderbilt parents that were on their flight in from Jacksonville. It gives credence to what we have been stressing - we can be a very likeable program but if these city activists have doubts about our ability to bring a massive throng to their big event, we risk losing the close decisions.
But one thing will be certain should fates align in the future; our two organizations will not be strangers. They spent pregame in Vandyville, tailgating with our fans and instead of sitting in the pressbox, preferred to enjoy the game from the stands.
This visit also reinforced a belief we have held for decades; while the games themselves are exciting, it is the common bonds of friendships formed around the games that are lasting. There are good people everywhere.